Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Here’s Why Indiana’s Public Charter Schools Are #7 In The Nation

Indiana’s public charter school system is considered one of the best in the nation, anchored by a charter school law ranked second among the 43 states that have such legislation.


Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

This is according to a list of the nation’s healthiest charter school systems, compiled by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The NAPCS released its inaugural report Wednesday judging states on how well they are implementing their charter school laws. Rankings were based off measurements of growth, quality and innovation in state’s charter sectors.

Combining those metrics, Indiana’s public charter school system came in at number seven out of the 26 states evaluated. The District of Columbia and the state of Louisiana topped the list with the “healthiest” charter school systems.

Even more impressive, the state’s public charter school law ranks second, above 40 other states and the District of Columbia, all which offer similar legislation. Indiana’s law ranks behind only Minnesota, where the nation’s first charter schools appeared in 1991.

Indiana enacted its public charter school law in 2001. Elements of the law that work? According to NAPCS researchers, it:

  • doesn’t cap charter school growth,
  • includes multiple authorizers, and
  • provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability.

Nick LeRoy, executive director with the Indiana Charter School Board, says credit for the success of Indiana’s law should go to policymakers at both the governor’s level as well as the legislature, who he says have created a good environment to allow for the growth of high-quality charter schools.

“Indiana has taken a very expansive approach to the growth of charter schools and really allowed demand to drive growth,” LeRoy says. “When there is an opportunity for a charter school to launch in a city or district where kids are not getting a good quality education, there’s never been impediments that have been placed in the way from a policy or legal perspective on that.”

However, researchers point out the law provides inequitable funding to charters, something they recommend expanding to increase the impact of student success.

LeRoy says he agrees that funding issues need to be addressed.

“Since charter schools don’t get access to local property taxes for facilities, charters often divert dollars from putting that money towards education and to put it towards facilities,” LeRoy explains. “Since charters are actually producing higher educational outcomes with less dollars, if there were more fairness in the amount of money spent on charter schools versus district schools, what would the results look like at that point?”

A math teacher leads a lesson on mathematic inequalities at Charter School of the Dunes in Gary. On average, kids in charter schools outperform their traditional public school counterparts in both math and reading.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A math teacher leads a lesson on mathematic inequalities at Charter School of the Dunes in Gary. On average, kids in charter schools outperform their traditional public school counterparts in both math and reading.

LeRoy also says a more equitable distribution of funds could help support higher quality charter schools throughout the state. Many of the charters currently operating in the Hoosier state are concentrated in the Indianapolis Public Schools district as well as around Gary.

On the upside, researchers also noted that Indiana’s public charter schools served a significantly higher percentage of racial and ethnic minority students when compared with traditional public schools.

The state also boasts four virtual public charter schools serving just over 7,000 students – 21 percent of the state’s public charter school population.

This isn’t the first time a national group has recognized the Hoosier state for its charter system. Last year, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University said in its National Charter School Study that Indiana was one of 11 states where students in charter school outperformed their traditional public school peers in both math and reading.

“I think that’s a really important metric that really shows that charter schools are really doing what they said they would do, and that’s delivering higher quality education to the students who attend charter schools,” LeRoy says.

LeRoy’s organization, the Indiana Charter School Board, is the only independent state charter board that currently authorizes public charters in the state. Other authorizing bodies include local school boards, higher education institutions, and one non-educational government entity – the Indianapolis Mayor’s office.

Recently, Mayor Greg Ballard has seen three of his sponsored schools give up their charters, most notably Flanner House Elementary School which was caught in a cheating scandal.

Indiana offers 75 public charter schools that serve about 35,000 students statewide. More than 6,400 public charter schools serve more than 2.5 million students nationally.


  • Jimmy DeNosa

    Sounds the fox watching the hen house type of report to me! Of course, the National Alliance for Charter Schools is going to paint a rosy picture for their schools. The original idea behind Charters as incubators of innovation for public schools has been lost on the idea of having private companies making a profit from school aged children and taxpayer dollars. How did we get so far afield from a previously good idea?

  • Leslie Duvall

    Number 7 in the nation for being charter school friendly, not number 7 in the nation for quality schools! Very misleading. This “news” story is awful. It sounds like it was written by an
    organization that promotes charter schools. It sounds almost like just a
    straight promotional release for charter schools. It seems to confuse the idea
    of charter school groups liking Indiana’s laws with Indiana having good laws.
    The charter school movement is a controversial one, with valid point on both
    sides. As it says in the “news” item, charter schools often out-score public
    schools in testing – not included in the “news” report is the public school’s
    concern that charter schools draw the students with the most family support and
    leave the public schools with most of the lower performing students. Charter
    schools don’t have kids with severe learning disabilities, MRDD, non-supportive
    or absent parents, etc. The “news” story even helps suggest that charter
    schools could be even better if they received a share of the tax dollars
    currently going to public schools. Charter schools often are more progressive
    and sometimes are more successful than public schools, but they don’t solve the
    problem of providing quality education for everyone. I suggest you play this
    story to any news person who knows even a little about the debate over charter
    schools – I’m sure it won’t pass muster.

    • Lisa Combs-Creech

      Sometimes it takes time to research before speaking. The author actually works for Northwestern University and writes on education across the nation. The truth of the matter is that some charter school students do outperform some brick and mortar public school students and vice versa in Indiana. My total opinion is that the education system is broken. Since No Child Left Behind, the increased testing and this whole grading the schools business, education has taken a back seat to politics and it the children that are hurting. Brick and mortar public schools are shuffling those children that aren’t excelling and their special needs students to one school, so that one school fails , while the others thrive and get A’s. In Texas, they are actually pushing for the expulsion of special needs students. Reason, the schools want the funding, but don’t want to do the work or apply the monies to actual education. Teachers in the classroom are left with their hands full trying to accommodate without any additional help, while that money pays for a new administrator. So many times these special needs students are pushed out to the charter schools or the virtual public schools. Virtual public schools have a high percentage of students that are special needs that have been neglected in the brick and mortar public school because of this politics game. So are these charter schools rating as well as the brick and mortar public schools-no. They are taking a long-neglected student and playing a lot of catch up to them. Plus virtual charters don’t teach to the iSTEP. Like whole class periods devoted to iSTEP to get ready for it in place of the regular education for that day, just so they have great scores. Virtual students do their regular education and then have live lessons to prepare for the iSTEP, which keeps them on track across the board. Personally, each school type has its plusses and minuses, but all of them could be better if the grading system of schools was just dropped as well as the testing and No Child Left Behind. More children have been rerouted and hurt by this law than any other in my opinion, not to mention how it has affected teachers. Regardless, charter schools are probably here to stay, especially the virtual charters, because when these brick and mortar public schools fail and someone buys them, it will be the people making the money, the textbook companies who own the virtual charters. They’ll be the ones to buy the failing brick and mortar schools. They saw the State in education dollars that are again going somewhere, but not funneled in the per se schools.

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